Falmouth conservation group follows the sun

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FALMOUTH — The offices of Maine’s largest conservation organization will soon have a new way to harvest energy.

Maine Audubon will be outfitting its Gisland Farm headquarters with what will be the largest array of solar panels installed by any conservation organization in the state. Partnering with ReVision Energy, Maine Audubon will install nearly 180 panels atop its Environmental Center.

Audubon’s communications manager, Michelle Smith, said the idea for the project came about a year and a half ago. She said the group’s former executive director, Ted Koffman, launched the project, which was “pushed through” by his successor, Charles Gauvin.

The installation will consist of six solar trackers, with nearly 150 panels, and a rooftop array of more than 20 panels. The solar system will produce an average of 74,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year. 

Installation of the system, which is expected to provide more than 80 percent of Gisland Farm’s electricity, began on Oct. 27 and is expected to be completed in about three weeks.

The system cost just under $240,000. In addition to ReVision, Maine Audubon is working with Moody’s Collision Center, which will pay for the equipment and installation. The project will allow Moody’s to qualify for federal income tax incentives. Maine Audubon will buy electricity from Moody’s for the next six years, and then will have the option to buy the installation. In that case, Moody’s will be able to recoup its costs through electricity payments, federal tax credits and the repayment cost of the system. 

Smith said Maine Audubon approached Moody’s about the project since “they have been a longtime corporate partner of Maine Audubon,” with a history of “giving back to the community on environmental issues.”

The solar trackers were built by AllSun of Vermont, and follow the sun over the course of the day and throughout the year using GPS technology. This moving system provides up to 40 percent more electricity than a fixed array. Maine Audubon expects in the first six years to offset more than 220 tons of carbon emissions, or just under 40 tons a year.

This is not Maine Audubon’s first venture into solar energy. In 1976, the organization installed early experimental solar panels on its administrative building. Twenty years later, the new Environmental Center was built using a passive solar power system as well as geothermal heating.

The project will be unveiled at an open house in early 2015. Smith said Audubon plans to incorporate the installation of the solar array into its programming, so the public can learn about its environmental benefits.

“We want the community to come check it out and see how it works,” she said.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.